24Hr emergency line +44 (0)20 8476 4099
Join Balpa

Disruptive Passengers During the COVID 19 Pandemic

by BALPA Security Committee

COVID 19 has changed the way we live our lives for the foreseeable future. To keep us all safe we must comply with certain government regulations. Some of those regulations must be adhered to whilst on board an aircraft and some of you may be experiencing a new type of disruptive passenger; the passenger who does not adhere to those regulations and ultimately is breaking the law and putting others at risk.

With the requirement to wear a face covering throughout all stages of travel from departure to arrival, along with the continued use of hand-sanitiser and being seated in close proximity to others in the cabin as well as reduced in-flight service, the experience of flying has become frustrating and frightening for some passengers. This can lead to clashes between passengers and the crew, who are trying to maintain good order thus keeping everyone safe.

You will be familiar with your own company rules and instructions requiring your own compliance with the government’s regulations, and you should also be aware of the rules and instructions your company asks your passengers to follow.

The BALPA Security Committee have put together some guidance material that may help you when a passenger becomes disruptive, which include the powers you have as an aircraft commander and what support there is for you in terms of law enforcement in the UK.

ANO Article 245 states that a person must not act in a disruptive manner whilst on an aircraft.

ANO Articles 244 and 265(6) require that persons on board must obey lawful commands of the pilot. These two documents alone provide the crew with the authority to deal with a disruptive passenger.

Additionally, there are Health Protection Regulations for the United Kingdom stating you must wear a face covering whilst on public transport, which by inference includes passenger aircraft. The Regulations also detail who is exempt.


However, the Tokyo Convention 1967 dictates that the laws of the land where the aircraft is registered apply at all times, and that is crucial in supporting any action that you as aircraft commander must necessarily carry out.
In all probability, the disruptive passenger is not going to recognise the commanders authority under the ANO, The Health Protection Regulations or the Tokyo Convention, so you are going to be left with the handling of a disruptive passenger in accordance with your own company guidance and perhaps contacting your operations team to assist you upon arrival in the UK.

To assist your company, UK police services are there to help you. The UK government has provided them with guidance as to which crimes will be investigated and prosecuted related to COVID 19. That guidance concentrates on offences linked to social gatherings, the requirement to self-isolate after international travel and the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport.

This means that should you have a disruptive passenger who is failing to comply with the instructions of the crew, the UK police will provide you with all the support you need on request. If you do request police assistance, then you will be required to provide statements to aid any investigation and ultimate prosecution. Without your statement, the police and the CPS will be unable to peursue a prosecution.
Primarily, the police services ethos is to engage, explain, encourage and enforce. The assumption when you request assistance is that you have already applied the first three and now you want to enforce.

To reduce the number of times for opening of the flight deck door, it is recommended that pilots establish effective CRM with cabin crew via interphone to adequately ascertain the seriousness of the situation and whether any diversion is required. Company procedures will be necessary to ensure crews have appropriate operational guidance on whether an inflight diversion should be considered.

If you must divert, then the directives in the Tokyo Convention guarantee the commander any assistance they may need in handling a disruptive passenger in any of the 186 Contracting States.

ICAO has also produced guidance for airlines, airports and crew within this regard.

Remember, all your passengers have chosen to fly with you and in buying their ticket they have agreed to follow any rules laid down by your company. If your company does not have clear and easily accessible passenger guidelines, then that may be worth highlighting to them. Those passenger guidelines are also your guidelines for managing your response. Remember also that there may be some passenger who have a good and acceptable reason for not wearing a face covering. Of course, the unruly or disruptive passenger(s) may be the self-appointed enforcers; you have tried to reason with the passenger who refuses to wear a face-covering and now other passengers have decided to get involved. Again, it is essential to follow your company guidelines for handling disruptive passengers.

After you have done all you can, your company may or may not wish you to involve the police. Your crew may just want to go home. Nevertheless, it is the commander’s authority that will dictate the final outcome. The law is on your side and the police services are there to help.